Coronavirus: Italian doctor describes patients' last moments

·3 min read

A doctor has described the last moments of coronavirus patients, saying they remain lucid until the end and ask to talk to their loved ones by phone as they realise they are dying.

Doctor Francesca Cortellaro, from the San Carlo Borromeo hospital in Milan, is one of many medical staff in Italy to speak candidly about their struggle with coronavirus.

Many have shared harrowing tales and photos of exhausting shifts - and of the toll the battle is taking. One has likened the virus to an earthquake.

Dr Cortellaro told Italian newspaper Il Giornale: "You know what's most dramatic? Seeing patients dying alone, listening to them as they beg you to say goodbye to their children and grandchildren."

Key Points

Italy has seen the worst coronavirus outbreak outside of China, with more than 800 deaths and the total number of people infected with COVID-19 standing at 12,462. Many of those who die are elderly patients.

Dr Cortellaro went on to say how coronavirus patients arrive on their own, and "when they are about to die, they sense it".

"They are lucid, they do not go into narcolepsy. It is as if they were drowning, but with time to understand it," he said.

She described how a dying grandmother had recently asked her to see her granddaughter.

"I pulled out the phone and called her on video. They said goodbye. Soon after she was gone.

"By now I have a long list of video calls. I call it a farewell list."

Italian doctors have been struggling with the rate of infected patients, and fears are mounting the national health system, considered one of the best in the world, may not be able to keep up with the disease.

In the northern Italian town of Bergamo, officials have been forced to turn the chapel of a cemetery into a mortuary chamber as they cannot cope with the number of people killed by coronavirus.

Bergamo, in the Lombardy region near Milan, is among the Italian towns worst affected by coronavirus.

It has more than 2,000 confirmed cases - recording a jump of over 300 cases in 24 hours - and almost 150 deaths from COVID-19 , the disease caused by coronavirus.

The chapel of All Saints, next to the city's cemetery, has been transformed into a mortuary chamber, Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera and other Italian reports said.

An average of 40 coffins a day are kept there ahead of burial or cremation.

The adjacent cemetery has been closed to the public for the first time since the Second World War.

The crematorium works 24 hours a day, but even so cannot cope with the high mortality rate, and families of the victims must often wait several days before their loved ones can be cremated, the reports said.

The whole of Italy is in lockdown. All gatherings and ceremonies, including masses and funerals, are banned - meaning victims' families cannot even bid farewell to their loved ones.

Many churches are closed, though a Rome cardinal has ordered them reopened in the capital.

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The vast majority of cases are in the northern Lombardy region, where Bergamo is located.

A doctor in the town's Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital, Roberto Cosentini, has likened Lombardy to the "epicentre of a never-ending earthquake".

He told Italian newspaper La Repubblica that the majority of patients arrive at the hospital in the afternoon, and are often in such bad condition they need to be intubated or attached to a ventilator right away.

"Every afternoon, it's like a new tremor, and hospitals are overwhelmed," he said.

"If we can't find more hospital beds, more doctors, more nurses, we won't be able to hold out for long."

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